From time to time, I issue Press Releases to keep northerners informed of my work in the Senate and in the North. These are often reported in the newspapers and on the radio stations in the NWT. In previous years I've also written articles that appeared here and/or in News/North. Most recently I wrote this article for the Hill Times.
In 2007/8, I made six releases.
Following that are four articles. Three appeared in News/North in June 2008, October 2006 and February 2006. The fourth appeared in The Hill Times in March 2008
At the bottom of the page you can click on links to previous years' articles.
Land Claims as an Engine of Growth
By Senator Nick Sibbeston
The omnibus budget bill, C-38, aims to create jobs and wealth by streamlining the regulatory process and shorten the time required for environmental assessments. The government argues that five years is too long to take to get project approvals. Canada’s economic well-being is at stake.
Settling and implementing land claims – comprehensive claims, specific claims, the BC treaty process or Treaty land entitlements – would also create enormous wealth and jobs not just for Aboriginal people but for all Canadians. Yet, the resolution of these legitimate claims remains lengthy, complex and subject to third party interventions.
To be fair, the current government did bring in legislation and policies to deal with specific claims in a more expeditious manner. (Specific claims arise from historic breaches by government officials.) They have resolved many smaller, less complex claims in a timely manner, though often these had already been on the books for decades. The Specific Claims Tribunal, once it is up and running, will cut the time for the resolution of claims from an average of twenty years to five or six.
Meanwhile, some comprehensive claims and those under the BC treaty process have been under negotiation for decades, building up massive debts for Aboriginal communities and creating uncertainty for both business and government. Failing to address Aboriginal claims or to consult and accommodate them on their rights will be a greater delay to development than any environmental assessment. Due to the constitutionally protected nature of these rights, the solution will not be found in omnibus legislation but in good faith bargaining and serious dedication of resources and attention to the issue.
To see the impact of settled land claims on economic development, one only needs look to the Northwest Territories. The first northern comprehensive claim to be settled (and the second one in Canada) was the Inuvialuit Final Agreement in 1984. This agreement provided the Inuvialuit, an Aboriginal people who live in communities in the Beaufort-Delta, with land and money as well as a guaranteed role in resource management in their region. This in turn gave them the confidence and capacity to take control of their own future.
Over the last three decades the Inuvialuit have done exactly that. The Inuvialuit Development Corporation – with interests in airlines, real estate, construction, resource development and manufacturing – has grown its assets from $10 million to well over $200 million with annual revenues over $300M, making it one of the five hundred largest companies in Canada. They employ thousands of people, not only in the North but across Canada.
Even the process of negotiating a land claim can have a positive effect – if there is an expectation of settlement. The T’licho, a Dene people who live north of Yellowknife and whose Final Agreement came into effect in 2005, became sufficiently confident through the progress of negotiations in the late 1990s that they were able to seize the opportunity to engage with the diamond mines in their traditional territories. Instead of opposing development, they embraced it – but on their own terms, with adequate protection of their traditions and of the environment in which they lived. Dozens of businesses and hundreds of jobs were created and the T’licho communities went from having a handful of students in university to nearly two hundred.
Similar success stories can be found in Yukon and Nunavut where settled claims have created economic opportunities for local communities in partnership with southern investors while providing assurances of environmental protection. In fact, the Yukon First Nations agreement lead to a new environmental assessment process – one with timelines and simpler processes, exactly what the federal government wants to create with Bill C-38.
However, there is a dark side to these stories of success. Where negotiations have dragged on, often because of delays created by the federal claims process and inflexibility of Canada’s approach to negotiations, little economic development occurs.
My own region of the Deh Cho, in the southern Mackenzie River Valley, where negotiations have been underway for more than thirty years, is a case in point. People want the jobs and business opportunities development would bring but they are sceptical and suspicious of industry and government. They understandably feel that, without a settled claim, they will be bystanders in their own economy and they fear that their land and water will not be adequately protected. As a result they have opposed development, often using the regulatory system to delay projects.
Streamlining the regulatory process will not result in quicker resolution of these conflicts but will simply move them from the assessment process to the courtroom. The only real solution will come from creating a more efficient way to settle their land claim. And what is true in the Deh Cho is equally true in the rest of Canada.
To see it in the Hill Times, click here.
Senator Seeks Certainty in NWT
Senator Nick Sibbeston today released Seeking Certainty: New Approaches to Land Management in the Northwest Territories. In announcing the report, prepared by Yellowknife consultant, Jamie Bastedo, Senator Sibbeston said, "We need to find new ways to manage land in the North, ways that both protect the environment and encourage sustainable economic development. I hope this paper will stimulate discussion and encourage fresh approaches to resolving this complex issue."
The paper examines the development of the current system and compares land management in the NWT with innovative approaches taken elsewhere in Canada. It concludes with a set of short and medium term recommendations designed to improve both the effectiveness and efficiency of land management in the North. The paper has been widely distributed to stakeholders and decision makers in the NWT and elsewhere.
The entire paper is available on the Senator's web-site at http://sen.parl.gc.ca/nsibbeston/
May 20, 2010 -- News Articles
Parliament is winding down toward the summer break. Tulip season is over and the hot weather is on the way. We've already had several days over 30 and thunderstorms are a regular event. The House of Commons has seen its share of storms, too. Despite the relatively short session due to last winter's unexpected prorogation there has been lots of rumbling about the Afghan detainee issue and the Guergis/Jaffer affair. It is these matters that dominate the press, perhaps because the government has been so slow to introduce substantive legislation for Parliamentarians to discuss.
The Senate is, of course a quieter place – though things are a little more fiery now that the Prime Minister has appointed so many Conservatives to the Chamber. Of course, not everyone is a fierce partisan and it was a pleasure to welcome my old friend and colleague, Dennis Patterson, to the Senate as the Conservative Senator for Nunavut. We both sit on the Aboriginal Peoples Committee and have already found common cause on several projects. I really prefer to work in a non-partisan manner. My staff recently met with Dennis Bevington's assistant in Yellowknife and I hope to be able to work with our MP on a specific project for the NWT in the near future.
One area of real concern for me and most Northerners is the end of funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Though some money was given to Health Canada to assist residential school survivors, we all know that funds granted to Ottawa bureaucrats will never reach people in small communities where the majority of survivors live and the need is greatest. Dene Nation President, Bill Erasmus, was in Ottawa a few weeks ago to encourage the government to continue funding and we had a good talk about the issue over lunch in the parliamentary restaurant. We agreed to keep fighting for former students until full justice is done.
Recently, I was able to hire Yellowknife consultant, Jamie Bastedo, to prepare a paper on land management in the NWT. "Seeking Certainty" has been widely distributed and, so far, the reviews from First Nations, industry, government and environmental organizations have all been positive. I'm hoping to meet with recently appointed Federal negotiator, John Pollard, in the near future to discuss some of the ideas contained in the paper. Everyone knows there are changes needed in the regulatory system but these have to be achieved in an inclusive manner that respects settled land claims and Aboriginal rights. The final solution should be one where everyone can say: "I didn't get everything I wanted, but I got everything I needed."
I'm looking forward to the arrival of summer so I can spend more time at home in Fort Simpson or traveling to other NWT communities. If you see me walking down the street in your hometown, be sure to say hi and let me know what issues are on your mind. I'm your representative in Ottawa but I can only do my job with your advice and assistance.
This is a letter that I sent to the NewsNorth to follow up on an article that appeared on my statement on poverty.
I would like comment on the story on the front page of News/North on November 1. I made a statement in the Senate acknowledging the conference on poverty held in Yellowknife and complimenting the organizers for dealing with this important matter. A News/North reporter asked me for additional details. I acknowledged there was poverty – too much poverty – in larger centers. One cannot walk down the streets of Yellowknife without seeing poor and desperate people.
What I wanted to contribute to the discussion on was that in the small communities like Jean Marie River, Trout Lake, Nahanni Butte and even Deline, there is a different experience. While they may not have the same standard of living, they nevertheless are often content as they have family, relatives and the essentials of life. All things considered they are happier than those in Yellowknife who have large mortgages and the stresses that go with city life. Not having a lot of money in a small community is a different thing than it is in Yellowknife.
In part, I was appealing to the pride and self sufficiency of people in the small communities. I wanted to challenge the myth that people, especially native people, in the small communities are all so poor, miserable and hard up. I was standing up for community people and trying to have the public understand that things are not like they see in Yellowknife or other larger centers. Life is different in small communities.
My views in this matter developed from working since 1970 as MLA, to improve peoples' lives by providing the basics -- houses, water, schools and so on. I've been through the whole gamut in every community in the Deh Cho where over the years, at least a little due my hard and determined work, life for people has gotten better.
There were always some who fell through the cracks and lived difficult lives, but for the most part when I went to the communities and visited homes and held meetings, people were good-spirited and well off with fish, moose or caribou meat and wood to heat their homes. I know there are current concerns about the scarcity of caribou that are creating problems in some communities but people still have options in small communities they don’t have in Yellowknife.
I visit communities throughout the north as your Senator and still see the same differences between large and small communities. If there was a happiness or life-satisfaction barometer I'm sure that people in the small communities would be higher up the scale than the larger centers. I’ve even seen reports that show that people in Newfoundland may have the lowest incomes in Canada but are consistently the most satisfied with life because of the strength of their community life. I’m sure we would find the same thing here.
That's all I was trying to say. Be conscious when you talk about poverty to not give the impression that poverty is the norm with native people. There will always be some people who are poor and we must work to help them, but don't judge the north by what you see on the streets in Yellowknife or a few other large centers.
I appreciate that some people were offended that the article gave the impression that I said there is no poverty. I'm not so insensitive. I come from humble (I never think of them as poor) beginnings but always had enough to eat, warm clothing and a good log house. I had rabbits, squirrels, moose and a few store-bought foods to eat, and had a rich culture and language. I was raised by my mother and grandmother and strove for everything I've attained to date. I know life can be a struggle, even in small communities, but I also know we can’t treat everyone the same. As the Yellowknife conference concluded, we need ‘community-based solutions’ that recognize the different experiences of people and build on the strengths communities already have.
The article referred to previous comments I made about putting less money into social programs and more into business. In my job as Senator I travel throughout the country and see where aboriginal people have done very well. It's always through economic development that advances are made. We need our Métis organizations and First Nations to become economic machines.
Government jobs and programs are fine, but only go so far. We need the meaningful and satisfying jobs created by business and industry. Again I say this from my experience at my own businesses. We need economies with strong public and private sectors to reduce overall poverty and to help those who, often through no fault of their own, have difficulties making ends meet.
I want to close by again congratulating the organizers of the “No Place for Poverty” workshop and to reiterate what I said in the Senate supporting the development of an anti-poverty strategy in the NWT. I also urged “the federal government to follow their example by adopting their own comprehensive strategy to eliminate poverty.” Because the north is no place for poverty and neither is Canada.
Senator Nick Sibbeston
Yellowknife, NWT, March 6, 2008 – Senator Nick Sibbeston today released “On the Frontiers of Climate Change”, a report on the impact of global warming on the Northwest Territories.
“This report,” said Sibbeston, “which was prepared by well-known naturalist, Jamie Bastedo, brings together scientific evidence and community experience to demonstrate the dramatic effects that climate change is already having on the North”.
The 30-page report which documents 18 case studies of climate change impacts is formatted in the shape of a calendar. “I want people to be reminded that time is passing and time is running out on this important issue” said Sibbeston. “The time for talk is over. It is now time to take action.”
Senator Sibbeston and report author, Jamie Bastedo, will share the keynote speaking duties at tonight’s Energy Action Awards banquet sponsored by the Arctic Energy Alliance.
Ottawa, May 22, 2007 -- The Senate of Canada has adopted a motion apologizing to survivors of Indian Residential Schools for the trauma they have suffered. The motion, debated and approved on May 17th, mirrors one adopted in the House of Commons the previous week.
Speaking to the motion, Senator Nick Sibbeston stated that “the federal government, as the government of the people, ought also to apologize.” To date Prime Minister Harper and Minister of Indian Affairs, the Hon. Jim Prentice have refused to issue a formal apology.
Sibbeston described the power of an apology to help the healing process and to reduce the sense of grievance people feel for a wrong they have suffered. He compared the fulsome apology received by Chinese and Japanese Canadians as well as Maher Arar to the half-hearted and incomplete expressions of regret offered Aboriginal people. Sibbeston lauded the former apologies and said Aboriginal people simply want the same treatment. He said, “we want an apology from the government. I heard people say, ‘Yes, it will be nice because some day, if I get an apology, I can show my children, and my grandchildren can see it, so they can understand why I am the way I am.’ “
Sibbeston, who spent over ten years in residential schools in the Northwest Territories, described the lasting effects of depression and despair that the residential school experience had for many Aboriginal People, himself included. “To this date, I suffer from depression, sadness and sometimes I have a hard time coping with life.” He also spoke of the positive effects that apology and forgiveness have played in his own healing and called on the Federal government to “take the lead, make a full sincere apology” and not wait years before making a late and half-hearted one.
Sibbeston’s speech, the longest in his career as a Senator, was greeted with an ovation by his colleagues and the motion was adopted without dissent.
Ft. Simpson, NT June 20, 2007 – Senator Nick Sibbeston recently completed a four community tour of the Beaufort Delta which took him to Ulukhaktok, Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik and Aklavik. “It’s important that I travel to communities to see and hear the concerns of local residents so I can better represent their interests in Ottawa,” said Senator Sibbeston.
Mr. Sibbeston met with community and business leaders during his community visits and also attended the Inuvik Petroleum Show to get an update on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. “I believe the pipeline will move forward despite challenges,” said Sibbeston. “The project may need some rethinking as suggested by Minister Prentice but I’m convinced that there is a growing need for natural gas as a clean fuel alternative and that will drive the project forward.” Senator Sibbeston saw the announcement of an agreement between the Inuvialuit and MGM Resources on a new drilling program as a positive step forward. During the Show, Senator Sibbeston had useful discussions with Premier Joe Handley as well as Aboriginal leaders, Nellie Cournoyea and Fred Carmichael.
However, it was the visits to the smaller communities that Senator Sibbeston found particularly useful. “I always consider it a real privilege to see people in their own home towns and to hear the concerns they have.” The impacts of climate change were at the forefront of people’s concerns in every community he visited. Whether focused on changes to sea ice, the introduction of new species into local habitats or damage to infrastructure due to shifting permafrost, concern about climate change is significant and growing. “There’s no question in my mind that climate change is real,” said Senator Sibbeston. “We need to understand it better so we can limit its impact and better respond to changes when they occur.” To that end, he has recently started a research project that will merge scientific knowledge with community understanding and experience. The end product will be a document that will both inform the public and assist decision makers – both North and South – with this issue.
While in the Beaufort, Senator Sibbeston visited schools in Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik. “Interacting with students on the issue of climate change was particularly rewarding,” said Senator Sibbeston. “It is youth that will be most affected by a changing environment and their input into solutions will be essential.” During his school visits, Senator Sibbeston had an unexpected guest. None other than Santa Claus accompanied him to the classrooms and expressed his own concerns about the changing climate. “The reindeer are having trouble grazing and my house at the North Pole is definitely being affected by thinning sea ice,” said the jolly old elf. “And as for putting green house gas emitting coal in the stockings of the naughty – I’ve had to stop that practice altogether.”
With Santa Claus in Tuktoyaktuk
Ottawa, ON November 2, 2007 – Senator Nick Sibbeston, in his reply to the Throne Speech on November 1, 2007 called on Prime Minister Harper to consult northern people and their leaders on his plans to strengthen northern sovereignty and strengthen northern development. “Too often, the Prime Minister makes surprise announcements during hastily arranged trips and imposes technocratic decisions without regard for the real concerns of the people.” Senator Sibbeston stated that people in the North are concerned that this is a return to the bad old days when decisions were made in Ottawa without involving or consulting local people.
In his wide-ranging speech, Sibbeston called on the federal government to move forward quickly on devolution and resource revenue sharing talks and to support northern priorities such as the development of clean hydroelectricity projects and the completion of the Mackenzie highway.
Much of the Senator’s speech focused on the environment. He expressed concern that the Prime Minister’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change were too modest and would take too long. “I assure honourable Senators that climate change is real and it is accelerating... Protecting our current energy-intensive economy at the expense of our future well-being may prove not to be the wisest choice.” He insisted that swift action on binding targets for GHG cuts, investments in new technology and an effective emissions trading system were essential.
With respect to the Government’s proposal for a single window approach for approving major projects, Senator Sibbeston said he supports improvements to the approval process to encourage development as long as they remain “sufficiently vigorous to protect the environment... (and) respect the rights of Aboriginal people.”
On the proposed expansion to the Nahanni Park Reserve, Sibbeston reiterated his call to balance the protection of the environment with the need to maintain access to mineral resources. Whether a future Deh Cho government “will be self-sustaining depends on the use of minerals, oil and gas and other resources to create wealth, jobs and business opportunities for its people.
Ottawa, ON November 16, 2007 – Senator Nick Sibbeston called on the Senate of Canada to take a leadership role in combating climate change by adopting a policy of purchasing carbon offsets for all Senate travel. In a motion moved November 15, he asked that “carbon offsets that meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and also meet internationally recognized standards and certification processes” be included in the travel budgets for both individual Senators and Senate committees.
Most proposed measures to reduce greenhouse gases will take a long time to implement and even longer to have effect, Sibbeston said. “It is possible to do something now, however... The modest steps we take will immediately reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being put in the atmosphere.”
Senator Sibbeston argued that taking these steps now will raise the profile of the issue and increase Senator’s awareness of and sensitivity to climate issues. “Every time we travel we will be conscious of contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and what we are paying to offset that.” He noted that two provinces, British Columbia and Manitoba, and many municipalities have already adopted this policy. it is up to the Senate to show leadership at the Federal level.
The motion is still being debated in the Senate.
Ottawa, ON November 22, 2007 – Senator Nick Sibbeston today decried the recent public consultation on the expansion of Nahanni Park. It “verges on deceitful,” he said, “For consultation to be meaningful, those being consulted must have access to all relevant information and time to consider it and develop their views. The Mineral and Energy Resources Assessment (MERA) is an extremely significant tool to evaluate the economic potential of the Nahanni watershed.” Completing the public hearings on the expansion prior to the release of the MERA prevents a balanced assessment by the public of the economic and environmental issues that might lead to decisions based on the principles of sustainable development. “This appears to be part of a deliberate strategy to bias the consultation process. The very future of the Dehcho people is at stake and they deserve to have all the facts.”
Sibbeston went on to point out that none of the options presented by the Nahanni Working Group were consistent with the announcement made by Prime Minister Harper in August. “During his speech announcing the land withdrawal, the Prime Minister stated that the Park would eventually cover an area four times the size of Prince Edward Island – that is, roughly 22,600 square kilometers. All three of the proposed boundary options exceed that amount, calling into question the legitimacy of the entire exercise.” Two of the options also exceed the amount of land withdrawn and protected by the August announcement.
Senator Sibbeston went on to confirm his support for a reasonable expansion of the Park and suggested that the Nahanni Working Group might take a lesson from the work done to create the Spirit Bear area in northern British Columbia. This was “a truly collaborative process of all interested parties that protected key environmental areas while leaving places with high economic potential open for development.” This might lead to a park four times its current size (that is, 20,000 square kilometers) which “preserves the highest value environments while ensuring the possibility of future economic development for the benefit of Dehcho residents.” He suggested that further consultation and work is required before a final boundary is proposed. They need to “return with new more rational options that are based on the true principles of sustainable development, balancing both environmental and economic interests within the DehCho.”
June 2008: On June 11th, Prime Minister Harper made an apology to residential school survivors in the House of Commons. This is good news. They’ve given us money and now they have apologized for the whole residential school system which the Federal Government and churches became involved in Canada and the North since about 1867.
Some people might wonder why the government, churches and former students are making such a big deal about all this. Some might even say “Hey, we got an education which has been useful. If it weren’t for that, we would have been in the bush, not educated and our life would have been tougher.” I think most people appreciate getting an education but it’s the way they did it that is causing so much grief. Imagine sending your 5 or 6 year old child away for years at a time, not to a similar home but to a large institution with two nuns looking after groups of sixty children.
The school system in place in the early days sent children to school in places like Fort Providence because people were living in the bush and there was no school nearby. Parents were not educated and lived off the land. In this situation, the church, priests and sisters offered to provide schooling to the children.
The church, in the spirit of charity and love of God, initially built residential schools as a means to care for orphans and to provide some education to young children. No doubt they saw it as an opportunity to “Christianize” the children while they were educating them. They had the Grey Nuns from Montreal to care for and educate the children in a very strict religious and disciplined manner. The nuns wore big thick habits and screens around their faces. They had been trained to deprive themselves of human contact and to be disciplined and sinless. Not a very good background to deal with young children. What children need most is love, affection, hugs and close contact with a mother-like person. Children need affirmation of who they are - little people with their Dene language, clothes, food and culture. This was never provided.
Some year’s ago, I read a book by Victor Frankl called “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which he relates his experience in a concentration camp. On arrival at the camp, they were lined up, stripped of all their clothes, their hair cut, all their belongings taken away. They were ordered around like animals. This resonated deeply with me – it was exactly how I remembered my Providence experience when I arrived there with my little bag of clothes at six years old.
When we arrived at the residential school, our clothes were taken away, our hair was cut and we were told not to speak our language. It was a whole new world of rigid discipline, in French only, praying, standing in line, given a number -- a strange world of survival, sadness, missing your home, your parents and your way of life.
That’s what I went through. It was very traumatic and to this day, I still suffer a great deal from this early childhood experience. More than any physical or sexual abuse, the trauma of going to residential school when you are 5 or 6 years old is almost inhuman. Would anyone today think of sending their young children away for 10 months of the year or in some cases 10 years without coming home? It’s hard to believe that such a system existed and no wonder the impacts of residential schools has had such a harsh effect of some of us.
Think about it. The Aboriginal Peoples of our country had to endure pretty harsh treatment and that’s why the Prime Minister has apologized. It wasn’t right and the only thing that will ease the pain and suffering is to have the government acknowledge and admit that they did a bad thing and that they are sorry for that.
In the North, we have watched the Prime Minister’s apology and listened closely to his words. We must now absorb and feel its impact, accept it as a sincere and whole-hearted effort to make amends. In a small way it will ease the pain and memories of years past and hopefully make it possible to have a measure of peace in our older years.
March 2008 (Hill Times): Northerners are amused, perhaps even bemused, by the sudden interest the Prime Minister has directed their way. They are not unappreciative, for too often the interests of the North has been an afterthought in the minds of southerners and southern politicians.
However, they are concerned the focus of this interest seems to be on the North in the abstract, not the North as it is lived by the people who have long made the lands north of 60° their home. Since time immemorial the Inuit have lived in the high Arctic while the Dene dwelt in the western territories. In recent years, many non-Aboriginal people have come to live and raise their families there. One of the tremendous strengths of the North is the relationships these diverse people have forged and the sense of cooperation and harmony that has become the rule rather than the exception.
Sovereignty over the North will not be won by a few more military vessels and certainly not by the exploitation of its resources by multinational corporations. Rather sovereignty will only be established by the continuing presence and prosperity of the people – Northerners, yes, but proud Canadians, too – who live there. The focus should not be on abstractions but on sustaining healthy communities.
While many of the initiatives of the current government are welcome, such as the expansion of the Canadian Rangers program and the establishment of a world-class centre for Arctic science, much has been left undone. Investments in alternative energy – hydroelectric in the Northwest Territories and wind on the Arctic coast – and in transportation, such as the completion of the Mackenzie highway, would help cement Canadian claims to the north and improve the lives of the people who live there.
The concern over foreign intrusions into Canadian territorial waters would not be nearly as great if it were not for the dramatic reduction of sea ice in the Arctic caused by global warming. Climate change is real and apparent to anyone living in the North and we know that action is needed now – not twenty years from now – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, Canada also needs to make serious investments in infrastructure to adapt to the change that is now inevitable.
Concern for the environment must also be central in any plan to develop northern economies. The Federal government is presently reviewing the regulatory regime for project approvals in the North, with a view to making them administratively simple and efficient. Certainly, improvements can be made to reduce the length of time needed for approvals and to improve the capacity of local boards to deliver consistent evidence-based decisions. However, the ability of these boards to protect the environment must not be reduced. Moreover, given that these agencies were created as a result of constitutionally protected land claims agreements, the rights of Aboriginal people to participate fully in the decision making process must not be damaged.
Sustainable development must be the basis upon which northern economies are built. Sustainability is not an excuse to oppose all economic activity but it does place reasonable limits and significant standards on what development is allowed to proceed. Environmental damage must be avoided or where it occurs there must be mechanisms to limit that damage during economic activity and repair it when the activity ceases. For example, new mines should be required to post environmental bonds before they are built so that funds are available in advance to mitigate impacts after the mines close. Further, development should be paced so that economic development will proceed at a rate that local communities can absorb and benefit from development.
This may mean that some development proposals become uneconomic but this is much preferable to the out-of-control growth now occurring in the Alberta oil sands and threatening the environment, not only of northern Alberta but much of the northern territories as well.
Sustainable development does not mean turning the entire north in one big national park as many southern-based environmentalists would like. No-one in the north opposes the protection of critical environmentally sensitive regions. Support for the NWT Protected Areas Strategy, which recently set aside two large areas in the central Northwest Territories, is deep. These areas were identified after considerable research and consultation with local people and are quite different from the broad-brush approach taken to create huge National Parks. Perhaps it is significant that the former approach is preferred by Aboriginal people living in areas with settled land claims while the latter are proceeding in regions without settled claims where people remain concerned about the protection of their rights.
In the end, it must be local people who make these decisions. To do that, it is vital that the federal government respect the land claims process and complete the devolution process to transfer control over lands and resources north. This has already happened in the Yukon and needs to be completed for the other territories as soon as possible. This will help put the focus back where it belongs – on the people who make the North their home – and make sure that this beautiful place remains a healthy and vibrant part of Canada for time to come.
October 2006: I’m back in Ottawa for the fall session of Parliament and feel like a duck heading south as the snow starts to fly. My work on behalf of the Northwest Territories is a challenge these days, being a Liberal Senator with a Conservative government and Minister of DIAND and an NDP MP. We don’t have political parties in our legislative assembly and, for MP, I think most people in the North vote more for the person than the party. In Ottawa, things are very partisan and it is a challenge to work with people from other parties, but I do my best.
I have been working closely with Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain on the Senate Aboriginal Peoples Committee on the problems faced by Aboriginal people in economic development and, recently, with the specific claims process. Gerry traveled to the NWT with me a few years ago and we’ve been able to take a practical non-partisan approach to our work ever since.
Minister Prentice has been more of a challenge, although he seems very knowledgeable about native and northern issues. He has come North a few times without giving much warning and certainly doesn’t advise me of his travels. I have spoken to him once or twice in Ottawa and hope to sit down with him this fall to discuss northern issues.
On the other hand, I had the opportunity to host Bill Graham, Leader of the Opposition, in Yellowknife and Rae this summer. Bill, along with Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, visited for three days in July. In addition to meeting with T’licho leaders, we met with the Premier and several MLAs, representatives from the mining industry, including my old Cabinet colleague, Mike Ballantyne, as well as a number of environmental and community activists. Thanks to Bill Braden, who invited us to his cabin for supper, we were even able to get out fishing – making it a real northern experience for everyone.
In September, I attended the water conference in Fort Simpson where Margaret Trudeau was the speaker. We had been corresponding earlier in the year and it was a pleasure to meet with her over dinner and discuss a variety of topics. In October, I spent a day in Nahanni Butte, meeting with Chief Eric Betsaka and the Band Council about the Nahanni Park Expansion. We had a good discussion about the need for both environmental protection and economic development.
The issues of clean water, protecting the environment and climate change are very important in the North and relate directly to my work as Senator. I sit on the Energy and Environment Committee which is studying water and reviewing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Also, the Conservative government’s new Green Plan is all the talk in Ottawa these days. I’ll be reviewing their proposals to see if they do something positive or are just “hot air” as some claim.
There are lots of issues before Parliament that will have big impacts on the North. I’m concerned about the effects of recent budget cuts, especially to literacy programs, and about some of the new proposals to change the criminal code. But my views on the government are not all bad. I was thankful to them for moving forward on Residential Schools and gave vocal support in the Senate when they announced they were doing away with the long-gun registry.
The other big event of the fall is the Liberal leadership race. I announced in September I was supporting Michael Ignatieff. It is quite a competition and should make for interesting viewing when the convention is held in December.
The recent federal election in the NWT, with Dennis Bevington as the new MP, will result in changes in Northerner’s dealing with government in Ottawa. Without doubt, Ethyl Blondin-Andrew’s position as Minister was a great advantage. She was well-connected, could open doors and gain access to important Ministers and, when needed, the Prime Minister. With her defeat and the defeat of the Liberals nationally, it will mean, for the time being and until new relationships develop, more limited access and different responses to northern issues. We have a new Conservative government, an NDP Member of Parliament and a Liberal Senator. We will all have to work hard to make sure the interests of the NWT are well represented and defended.
The exact role and influence Dennis will have will depend on his ability to raise issues in the House of Commons and to work effectively behind the scenes with his colleagues from all parties. Equally important is the role the NDP as a whole has with the governing Conservatives.
In Ottawa, everything is about party allegiance and which party is in power. Still, as we saw in the last Parliament, negotiation and compromise between parties is possible and, certainly, the recent statements by Prime Minister Harper and other party leaders are encouraging that this Parliament can be made to work. It will be particularly interesting to see how the new government will work with the Senate, which, of course, still has a Liberal majority. In my view the Senate should not unreasonably obstruct the work of the new government. At the same time, we must do our duty and ensure that government legislation is effective and sound. It will make, I think, for interesting times.
On a day to day basis, territorial Ministers and MLAs, government officials, mayors and chiefs and other organizations will still need to meet with Ministers and departmental officials here in Ottawa. I believe that the new government – which is operating with a slim minority – will want to be open and will be eager to prove they can respond to the concerns of all Canadians. Now that I’ve been here in Ottawa for a number of years, I feel confident that I can assist in setting up meetings and advancing northern issues. I am sure that Dennis will quickly learn the ropes and I look forward to working with him to make sure Northerners continue to have good access.
There is a lot of unfinished business with respect to Aboriginal People and the North that the new government will have to tackle. Although I am concerned about the fate of the Kelowna Accord and, especially, the Residential School Settlement, I am reasonably hopeful from what I have heard that much or all of these agreements will be preserved. I intend to work hard to make sure they are.
I was pleased to hear Mr. Harper mention the North in his victory speech on election night. Obviously, if the new government wants to address Northern issues – devolution, land claims, resource revenue sharing and the pipeline – it will have to work closely with northern governments and citizens and their representatives in Parliament.
Change is always difficult but it is a vital and inevitable part of life. Change closes some doors but, at the same time, it opens others. Life will be different with a new government and a new MP. I know I will miss Ethel here in Ottawa. She was a tireless worker and powerful and effective advocate for northern interests. She has left very big shoes to fill. Still, I am sure that Dennis will work hard on your behalf and I look forward to working with him to make sure we continue to make progress for the NWT.